A total reset is in the works for the New York Giants after a three consecutive two-season stints by different head coaches failed to win more than six games in five of those years.
Not only did the Giants wipe the slate clean at head coach, but general manager Dave Gettleman retired after four losing seasons. He was likely going to be forced out either way, and a retirement was probably a nice way of handling the inevitable. In 2022, his replacement, Joe Schoen, wasted little time in hiring the newest head coach, former Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
He named Andy Reid’s quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Mike Kafka to serve as the offensive coordinator in New York. It remains unclear who will call the plays, but Daboll’s experience gives him the upper hand for now. Either way, his stamp on the system will be readily apparent.
Daboll, now 46, broke into the NFL coaching ranks as a 25-year-old defensive assistant in 2000 with the New England Patriots. By 2002, he moved to the other side of the ball to coach wide receivers, a position Daboll would hold for five seasons.
The next two years found him coaching New York Jets quarterbacks before parlaying it into his first offensive coordinator job by following Eric Mangini to the Cleveland Browns. Two more years into the future saw Daboll become the OC in Miami in 2011, followed by another single-year stint as the Kansas City Chiefs’ play-caller under Romeo Crennel.
The Pats welcomed him back for the next five seasons, including four years as the tight ends coach. The 2017 season saw Daboll call plays for the Alabama Crimson Tide (yet another Bill Belichick connection), and in 2018, Buffalo hired Daboll as its OC.
Phew. Still with us?
Clearly, Daboll has considerable experience and plenty of NFL stops under his belt. He has never been a head coach, but no one should discredit his time spent learning under Belichick and even Sean McDermott.
Daboll is known for his flexibility and penchant for simplifying the offense to get the most out of his personnel. During his four years as the OC in Western New York, he commanded two very different offenses that directly correlated with the maturation of his quarterback.
Quarterback Josh Allen was raw coming out of college and needed to have the game artificially slowed for him early on, which Daboll did a fine job of through pre-snap motion, a reliance on the ground game, and an emphasis on underneath routes that are more likely to create separation, such as crossing and mesh routes.
In two short years, Allen was transformed into an elite quarterback whose coach put him in the best situations to maximize his traits. Highly athletic for a big-bodied quarterback, the Wyoming product was given more freedom as he matured, but Allen also earned it by cutting down his mistakes and doing a better job of protecting the ball. From his rookie campaign to sophomore season, Allen effectively cut his interception rate in half and improved it even further in his breakout 2020 showing.
The biggest area of improvement was completion percentage, which, as mentioned, was assisted by Daboll’s play designs. It also didn’t hurt having Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley enter the fold as typically sure-handed receivers. But credit goes to Daboll’s mesh concepts in the passing game and Allen’s improved understanding of where to go with the ball.
In the fourth year, Daboll’s Bills were the most prolific offense in the NFL. So what does that mean for the Giants? In his first press conference, he made it clear the offense won’t resemble what we saw last year in Buffalo. Why? The personnel in New York requires a different approach.
When Daboll left Buffalo, it led to the Bills promoting QBs coach Ken Dorsey to OC, and Daboll’s offense was outlined in our analysis of that situation:
A quick look at Daboll’s system should help give us some idea of what to expect from an overarching view. In the past two years, which are a better representation of his four seasons in Buffalo thanks to Allen having mastered the offense, the Bills ranked 11th in passing attempts in 2020 and fifth in ’21. As a result, we’re looking at the third-most yards and TD passes two years ago and the ninth-highest yardage output to go along with the seventh-most aerial strikes in 2021.
The rushing attack produced the sixth-most yards and ranked No. 7 in scores in a year ago. In 2020, Buffalo’s ground game was less prominently featured, generating the 20th-most yards on the 17th-most attempts. Fourteen teams produced more touchdowns from the backfield. But, even with all of the passing success, Daboll’s offense at its core loves to run the ball. … In the two years before Allen ascended to an elite level, the Bills ran the sixth-most times in consecutive seasons, and in Daboll’s nine seasons as an OC, his teams ranked sixth or better in attempts six times. The rankings of pass-to-run ratios the past three years in Buffalo: 10th (2021), 12th (2020) and 26th (2019).
A look at Allen’s first two years are more indicative of what we should expect as Daboll tries to extract the most from quarterback Daniel Jones. The comparison is similar in some ways and not so much in others. Jones is athletic enough to do many of the advantageous movements that put Allen in better situations to find success, like designed rollouts, moving the pocket itself, and using his legs to keep defenses honest. How many times have we seen Buffalo call plays specifically to set up a slick run by Allen in a crucial moment?
In the open field, Jones is more than capable of doing damage with adequate straight-line speed when he’s not tripping over his own two feet. Allen, though, is a bully and a hyper-athletic one at that, able to leap opponents when he isn’t plowing through them. That won’t be Jones’ style, which is perfectly fine.
While Devin Singletary came on strong to close out the 2021 season, he’s an inferior talent when compared to Saquon Barkley. Now, with that established, a player is only as useful as his availability. Following several serious injuries, Barkley’s durability concerns are front and center.
So long as he can remain healthy, the Giants can implement a successful ground game to alleviate some pressure from Jones. That will be the key to turning things around in a hurry.
Table: Brian Daboll team ranks as OC
It’s not necessarily fair to hold some of the negative marks against Daboll from his time with notoriously weak franchises, such as the Jets and Browns. Some takeaways parallel what we see here, though. Suspect QB play tends to lead to more running plays, provided the defense permits commitment to the ground attack. Last year’s Giants defense ranked in the bottom half of the league in yards and points allowed. Don “Wink” Martindale is the new defensive coordinator in New York, and his experience earns this group the benefit of the doubt for seeing modest improvement.
This roster is nearly $4 million over the salary cap, although that will change at any moment as free agency is upon us. The deadline is 4 p.m. EDT Wednesday to get under the cap.
Revamping the offensive line is the top priority, and it will receive the majority of this team’s attention through free agency as well as the draft.
The Giants released tight end Kyle Rudolph and have Evan Engram facing free agency, also expected to depart. Both the third- and fourth-string tight ends also are free agents, so the position will look much different in ’22. Otherwise, the core skill position players are set to return.
Don’t expect New York to make many splashes, especially on offense, in free agency.
Fantasy football takeaway
Jones is far from a finished product and gets a chance to resurrect his career under a proven play-caller who has found success getting the most out of a talented but underperforming QB in recent seasons. The fourth-year passer has the tools in the passing game to outperform the fantasy community’s widely shared negative view of his outlook. But, as mentioned, it all starts with fixing the offensive line. If that doesn’t happen, all bets are off. Any quarterback would struggle in that situation. The Bills did a fine job of building one of the league’s best lines during Schoen’s time in the personnel department, so there’s hope it will translate to the G-Men. For now, Jones is a deep-league flier as a QB2 or matchup play in a rotation with a more established starter.
Barkely, as discussed, has the chops to be an elite back in fantasy once again, but he must remain healthy. No sprains or strains, and definitely no tears or breaks. Much like with Jones’ outlook, the offensive line being successfully rebuilt is paramount. Barkley can do damage in space, so it’s maybe not quite as imperative as it is for Jones, but this is so interconnected that it might as well be uniformly applied. Best-case scenario, we’re looking at a top-five PPR back. The worst-case scenario is another catastrophic injury, and somewhere in between looks like the uninspiring version of Barkley we’ve seen over the last two injury-ravaged seasons. He’ll be someone’s RB1 in 2022 drafts, and time will tell if we’re more bullish than bearish about his stock entering the heart of draft season.
Wide receiver is a strength of this team with Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton rounding out the presumed top foursome. All but Shepard can stretch the field and score from anywhere. Toney is the one to invest in as a breakout candidate as he should be heavily featured to take advantage of his gamebreaking traits. Golladay and Jones never were on the same page in 2021, which rightfully creates concern about their chemistry for the upcoming season. He’ll be a risky WR3 target in fantasy, and the same goes for Toney.
The Giants should see Shepard play a prominent role after taking a paycut to remain with the team. The primary reason is Daboll’s use of short-area passing to ease his quarterback’s job. Durability is a consistent issue for him, but if he manages to play a full schedule, fantasy owners could be gifted with a sly PPR gamble. Slayton will be a draft-day afterthought in fantasy, but he could emerge as a viable waiver claim if one of the top three guys gets hurt.
Tight end is wide open, but given the Giants’ lack of financial freedom, expect a draft pick to be invested fairly early and offset by a low-end veteran signing. Regardless of how it shakes out, there’s not a great degree of fantasy appeal from the position’s likely role in the offense.
There will be bumps and bruises along the way, but Daboll’s hiring is the most optimistic coaching move this team has made since the retirement of Tom Coughlin.